How to adjust to Studying abroad if your first language is not English

One of the best gifts of mankind is the knowledge and use of language. Language helps to bind people, gives an expression and a mode of understanding to the thoughts. There are different languages that humans have developed. Languages vary across locations and countries. Even the deaf and mute have languages. In other words, to imagine a world without language is next to impossible. And when one faces a challenge with the language, it is one of the most difficult hurdles to cross because this challenge can impair learning, can make one feel out of place, can make a person feel almost helpless, can lead to getting bullied, can make a person lose self-confidence and make it difficult to conduct day to day activities which are dependent on communication.

This kind of challenge is not unknown to anyone who moves out of their native area – be it from one country to another or sometimes from one state to another state in a country like India where every state has its language and culture.

But when it comes to exploring opportunities for example taking up a course in another country or relocating for a job opportunity, should one lose out just because of the language barrier? And if the answer to the question is ‘No’ then what is the way out?

The What and why of the English Language: 

One of the most important and non-negotiable things to do is to learnIf one is a non-native speaker ending up in another country, it is essential to learn English if one does not know the language. While it is understandably not the easiest of the languages to master, it is certainly worth learning it especially to equip oneself to deal with the practicalities of life.

For example, a student who has moved abroad, needs to be able to follow the teachers and the directions given by the faculty, should be able to make their basic purchases needed for living, should be able to mingle with people and make friends. These are necessities of life, otherwise, living would become extremely difficult and cumbersome. Thus, one needs to make earnest efforts to learn the language in the first place. One need not attempt to master it, but working fluency should be an aim. Even to pass an exam on the subject that the student had gone to learn, he/she would need to be able to express their knowledge and understanding in English.

Over the years, English has become the connecting link for all the countries all over the world. While the world is now becoming a global village, the businesses, the news, the international diplomacy, the researches, the patents all use English as a common language. Thus, one should not live in denial that they can manage without English. The sooner one gets to understand the fact and accept it, the easier it is going to be for them.

Now that one is enlightened with the fact that No English is a No Go, then one understands that the biggest tool to survive and adjust is by learning English and all other tips that one needs to follow will also revolve to a great extent around how to handle English.

In this article, we will see the various ways in which one can either “learn” English or find ways to get adjusted with little English.

  1. Give up preconceived notions

Often people are held back due to their fears and notions. They think they cannot. Hence the first step is to do away with the fear of failure. Know the fact that no one is perfect and it is ok to make mistakes. But what is most important is to learn to identify and rectify the mistake and then avoid making the same error again.

  1. Join Spoken English Classes

In many countries where English is the native language, there are English courses for foreign students and in many countries where English is not the mother tongue, there are classes for the locals. Find out about such a class and even though it might be an additional cost, don’t hesitate to join the class. Consider the spending as an investment and part of your learning.

  1. Make friends with native speakers

It is often a tendency amongst humans and certainly amongst those who are abroad to find people who speak their language and then huddle with them. While it might be good to know people from your community for emergency support or to overcome homesickness, it is detrimental to your English learning project. It is of utmost essential that one steps out into this uncomfortable zone and tries to make friends with those who speak English. That way one would be able to experience a wide range of vocabulary will get to move around with the locals, and thus get more familiar with the neighborhood and the nuances of the culture.

  1. Don’t drop your confidence

Often our inabilities become the reason for the low confidence levels. A dip in the confidence can do more harm than it appears to. It can become a psychological problem, it can affect the concentration abilities, it can affect learning, it can prevent a student from asking questions or clarifying doubts. In the end, the whole idea of studying abroad become a failed project. To avoid this, start believing in yourself. Know that it is ok to fumble with words, it is ok to make grammatical errors, it is ok even if peers make fun or bully you, what is not ok is to think that you cannot and you are weak or you are incapable. Always remember the efforts that you and your family had to take to make it so far. Always recall the dreams which you want to accomplish and hence you landed up in the first place. This will give you the necessary emotional fuel to keep running even in difficult times. Celebrate your little victories, little achievements to stay motivated.

  1. Use Technology

There are many translation tools available these days that can help one to translate written content or voice commands even in real-time. Use tools like Google Translate to get the words translated. Use programs like Grammarly to get your grammar corrected when you type or present an assignment. Language learning software apps could be extremely useful too.

  1. Everything is useful

You can use anything and everything to communicate your thoughts or points across. All you need is to be creative. Sometimes, carrying a Notepad and a pen can help where you can write down words which you are uncomfortable speaking or if the others do not understand your accent. You can draw pictures or show pictures on your mobile phone to communicate. Try a voice recorder so you can record lectures or other communication and hear them later at your own pace if you are unable to grasp them due to speed or accent. That way you can ensure that you do not miss out on anything that is said and you can rewind and review your understanding and responses too.

  1. Don’t be shy

Only when one uses something one truly gets to learn it. Unless someone uses what they have learned they will never remember it, nor will they be able to master it. Hence use every opportunity to participate, to communicate in English. Try to ensure that you can put forth your thoughts and make efforts to use language to explain them before using other methods like pictures, actions, etc.

  1. Clubs, Sports, Movies, Janitors all are teachers

Don’t limit your learning to a classroom. But try to join some clubs of your interest where you can find like-minded people. You can be happy doing things that you like and finding people who are like you. Sometimes, a good friendship surpasses the need for a language. Indulge in sports or other activities where your potential can be brought forth so that people see your worth beyond your linguistic abilities. Watching movies in English as audio-visuals are the best ways to learn. Talk to the janitors in your hostel, your street, or university. They are the ones who would never judge you and even if they do, it does not matter but they are the ones who would use the local dialect the most and you can pick it up from them.

  1. Feel comfortable to ask

Often students find it difficult to ask for explaining. Don’t hesitate to ask. You can ask people to repeat. Use phrases where you can make the speaker repeat what he/ she has said. With all these phrases you can make the speaker repeat what he/ she has said. Also, feel comfortable asking people to speak slowly. Often native speakers can be fast as they are comfortable, but others might not be able to pick up everything that is been spoken. It is true even with the students who are most fluent in English if they come from another country. So it is not wrong to ask people to speak slowly.

  1. Repeat what you understand 

As much as it is possible try to repeat what you understand in your own words. That will help you to be clear about whether you understood it right and it will help the other people to also correct you if you have got anything wrong. That way you can prevent making mistakes due to wrong understanding.

  1. Prepare in advance

You cannot help it when you have to talk extempore but in all other times, allocate time to prepare, practice, and rehearse in advance. There is no need to memorize but giving yourself the time to think in advance can help you to align your thoughts and look for the right words and phrases and correct your grammar.

  1. Get the basics right

Upon landing in a new country, get hold of what are the conversions they use, what numbers are called in English, what are the names of the vegetables and fruits, what are the commonly used sentences. Write them and practice them and use them. This will help to handle practical stuff and help you build confidence in your abilities to survive.

  1. Carry a dictionary

While there are online tools available, referring to a dictionary could be a very good habit to build. The dictionary can help you with the meanings, can give you alternate words or synonyms, it can help you with antonyms or opposites, it can show you how to use the words in a sentence, it can also help you with the correct pronunciation.

  1. Connect with the alumni

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. This means that every time you don’t need to discover a solution to your problem. Most of the time your seniors or the alumni who have been in your place earlier might have faced the same problem and referring to them might help you save time, effort, and embarrassment.

  1. Be Flexible

Flexibility in attitude is a must. To be accepted one must first learn to accept. The culture, the language, the food, the ways of living, the traditions of the place might be very different than that of yours. But judging their culture or trying to prove that your culture or your way of living or your food habits etc are the best can often lead to you being unaccepted by the locals. It can be that your ways might be more scientific or practical but always respect the local sentiments and tradition if you want to get accepted and comfortable. Be inclusive in your behaviors and approach. Be flexible to try out new things from the local culture. Perhaps those might be helpful in those foreign conditions.

Following all the above tips will surely help one adjust and become successful if they have gone abroad for higher studies and especially if they are not native English speakers. So take up the challenge and go for the kill!